Damóo Yázhí

This Navajo word means: Saturday!

It’s literally “the little Sunday,” since Damóo is Navajo for Sunday.

When you think about Yázhí, and how it can mean “the little one,” keep in mind that it’s a word referring to age. For example Dibé Yázhí describes young sheep, typically lambs.

Navajo day names are entirely out of necessity of recent times. The word Damóo is likely a borrowed term from Spanish Domingo, which itself is denoting the Christian holy day.

When you consider the English weekday names - like Saturday - their roots can be references to earlier deities (like the Roman god Saturn). The fact that all Navajo weekday names are relative to “God’s day” in the Christian sense, suggests heavy influences by early missionaries - whose work on transcribing and codifying the Navajo language forms the basis of many Navajo language texts.

But just as we use Saturday without much thought about Roman religious beliefs, the true origin of Damóo remains ambiguous to many, which makes it hard to precisely trace the origins.

One way we can find out more about our sense of time is to ask more elderly Navajo people. Their grandparents were around during a time when Spanish and English were completely foreign.

Yá’át’ééh! Dííjį́ yéego hózhǫ́ dooleeł!

Hello! Do your best to make today great!

In Navajo, yá’át’ééh is a greeting, but before it became widespread, it was used to mean “it is good”. The full impact of the word comes from yá-, or the skyward direction.

Yéego (yégoh, yéígo) means “with much effort” or “with greater intensity”.

Dooleeł means “it will be” or “make it so” or “it will be made so”. Many times, speakers will use ‘doo’ (dohh) as a shorter way to say it. This can be confusing if the speaker uses a negation, like “doo yá’át’ééh da doo”.

Put it together, and you have “Hello! Have a great day!”, or as close as you can come to it in the literal sense. Culturally, it’s better to remind people that they have control in keeping a good balance in outlook - or hózhǫ́. ‘Wishing’ someone luck or goodness, in the way English intends to, doesn’t quite keep the same sentiment in Navajo since you’d be saying something like “If only you had luck/goodness.”

This is an example that demonstrates how Navajo can sound direct, and possibly offensive, when it is translated directly into English. Hopefully, you’ll have more questions about what Navajo words imply. Feel free to ask!

Shicheii

Shicheii is my mother’s father, or my grandfather (aka maternal grandfather).

In the Navajo way, shicheii is also my grandson by my daughter (a kind of nickname or recognition). In the clanship way, shicheii’s first clan is my “dashicheii” clan, which often is the third to be listed after my father’s clan (“báshíshchíín”).

The horned toad (or ‘horny toad’*) is also referred to as “shicheii”, and as young Navajo we are told not to kill or harm our grandfathers. In the same vein, we are told not to be afraid of them, either.

There are a few characteristics drawn from the horned toad that can dictate the interaction between a Navajo elder and his grandson. The tough and fierce exterior of the horned toad is intimidating and sometimes scary. But underneath he has a soft belly.

*As children this English pronunciation is easier and is semantically identical to ‘horned toad’ in this case.

Báshíshchíín

As part of the Navajo introduction and clanship system, this word references your father’s first clan. Since every Navajo is their mother’s clan (meaning her’s is the “first clan” or the one her children pass on to their children), their father’s clan is the one they would be “born for”.

For example: Hashk’aan hadzohí báshíshchíín (I am born for Yucca-fruit-strung-out-on-a-line)*.

This essentially means the second clan is the father’s mother’s (mother’s mother’s …) clan.

The Navajo figure Tó bájíshchíní, who was one of the mythical warrior twins that vanquished giant monsters, is named “Born for water”, or “child born of water”.

In the third person, this word becomes yáshchíín (he/she is born for). This way of recognizing oneself or another helps to structure relations among Navajo people, and can sometimes lead to scrutiny if partners are related by clanship. Strictly speaking, it is not totally disallowed for two clan relatives to be engaged if the elders are confident that there is no immediate or blood relation. This takes a convening of families and extensive comparison of their family trees.

Another word referencing the father is shitaa’ - but that is more referring to a spiritual father (father sky).

*Cultural note: hashk’aan is also a word for banana, so I could be given the nickname Banana Boy and teased (not harshly).

What do we need to do now so that Diné Bizaad continues to be spoken in 100 years?

As young people, we have the energy and drive to do things right now. Let’s start talking.